Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, Hugh Acheson has made a name for himself as a true American chef. He went straight for the heart—and gullet—of our country's food scene: the South. The Top Chef judge has won two James Beard awards, one for his cookbook A New Turn in the South, and one for Best Chef Southeast, and he is the chef/partner of the Athens, Georgia, restaurants Five and Ten and The National, as well as the Atlanta restaurant Empire State South. Of his beloved little college town of Athens, he says:
In the corporate world we have the Five Guys, the regular other chains, and even a newly minted Steak 'n' Shake which is more popular than church right now. My pleading calls to Danny Meyer for a Shake Shack have yet to be returned...evidently we are not Dubai or Covent Garden. That said, we rock some local burgers, and here are four that top my list for various reasons. There are surely many great burgers that I have not listed, like The Grill, Clocked, and even my own the National, which makes a mean turkey burger.
Read on for some of Hugh's hometown favorites.
Farm 255 is a smart little restaurant helmed by ex-5&10 employee Whitney Otawka. They put out a pretty stunning grassfed burger with Asher Blue cheese from Sweetgrass Dairy in south Georgia. As the name implies, this burger is all about the local sources, so you can have a nice meal thinking about a greener future. Greener futures cost more though, so be prepared for a burger with a price in the low teens.
255 West Washington Street, Athens GA 30601 (map); 706-549-4660; farm255.com
ADD Drug is a classic food counter in a drug store. They do simple burgers with crinkle-cut fries. The burger is small but tasty, with American cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, bread & butter pickles, and chopped raw onion, with ketchup and mustard on the side in squeeze bottles. With a soda over crushed ice, it will set you back about $6. Granted you don't get a Playland™ or a toy, but it's an experience that should never ever go away. You also eat at a place where you know the owners name and he doesn't dress in a clown's outfit. Too many lunch counters have bit the dust and this one is a keeper.
1695 South Lumpkin Street, Athens GA 30606 (map); 706-548-2239; yelp.com/biz/add-drug-store-athens
White Tiger's Happy Top Cheeseburger is a winner right down the street from my house. White Tiger is a totally punk rock little venue in a ramshackle old general store. Think picnic tables, bottled sodas, potato chips and huge burger done well, flat-top sear style. Pretty classic presence with griddle onions and field greens and good old American cheese. Makes my family happy, and we can bring a bottle of wine to boot.
217 Hiawassee Avenue, Athens GA 30601 (map); 706-353-6847; whitetigergourmet.com
No wine allowed is allowed at The Varsity, but there have been essays on how to order. This venerable Atlanta institution is an icon in Athens as well and the burgers are pretty tasty for a simple, small burger. I don't think they'll be garnering sustainability awards, but I still love a "Glorified Cheese Steak all the way" with a side of onion rings. The onion rings are things of greasy beauty, large guilty pleasures that my doctor would oppose but my belly likes a lot. The burger ordered as a "Glorified Cheese Steak all the way" is a simple cheeseburger with lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, ketchup, mustard, and pickle. Nothing wrong with that.
1000 West Broad Street, Athens, GA 30606 (map); 706-548-6325; thevarsity.com